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Hard Questions, Tough Answers with Yossi Alpher - SPECIAL WINOGRAD REPORT EDITION

Q. How do you assess the Winograd commission final report issued on Wednesday, January 30?




Hard Questions, Tough Answers with Yossi Alpher is a weekly publication of Americans for Peace Now, normally published every Monday at

This special edition provides exclusive analysis of the report of the Winograd Commission on the Israeli government's handling of the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Yossi Alpher, an independent security analyst, is co-founder and co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian internet dialogue and Middle East roundtable

Alpher is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and senior official with the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency.

His views do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for Peace Now or Peace Now.

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Q. How do you assess the Winograd commission final report issued on Wednesday, January 30?

A. First, a word of well deserved praise. Few democracies, much less dictatorships, would investigate their strategic failings so thoroughly and objectively the way Israel did regarding the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006. The report itself (I base my remarks on the ten page summary read to the public by Judge Eliyahu Winograd and additional excerpts in the press, but not on the detailed 500 page report itself, which requires lengthy study) is balanced and fair and can be considered a classic model of national self-criticism.

The report is also anti-climactic. While Winograd went to great lengths to emphasize that this, the commission's final report, comprises its earlier interim report from April that condemned PM Ehud Olmert's performance in no uncertain terms (it used the Hebrew root caf-shin-lamed, "fail", 165 times), the final report offers a far more balanced judgment of the prime minister and his government. For one, owing to a High Court of Justice mandate, it avoids personal verdicts regarding fitness to serve. Then too, in looking at the critical final 60 hours of the war in August, when the government launched a major and costly ground offensive just as the UN Security Council was passing Resolution 1701 that ended the war, Winograd found that the government had made a "reasonable decision" that was "practically necessary" under the circumstances--determinations that appear to deflate the demand of reservists and grieving families of the fallen that Olmert take responsibility for the way the war ended and resign. Indeed, 1701 is praised as an achievement for Israel.

The report does criticize the government, and it targets the problematic "interface" between government and military in the war, but the primary focus of its criticism is on the IDF, whose performance in the war is roundly condemned. The army "was not ready for the war in Lebanon, didn't deploy for it, didn't manage the war correctly, didn't give adequate consideration to civilian casualties, didn't exploit its strengths, tried to reduce losses in a way that kept it from carrying out its mission". It "entered the war without an approved and practiced operational plan and proceeded as if this were a day-to-day security operation"; it "muddled along". It abandoned such traditional values as "tenacity, determination, operational discipline and responsibility".

The IDF, which argues that it has made considerable progress in reforming itself since the interim report (and even before it, based on its own detailed soul-searching process), now has to prove to a skeptical public that it has learned the lessons of Lebanon. The Winograd final report does not review the army's progress in this regard. But it does hint that the IDF has not dug deep enough. Also, significantly, it warns new Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi not to fall into the trap of "preparing to fight the last war".

Finally, the Winograd report, in avoiding specific judgments regarding the responsibility and suitability for office of PM Olmert, states explicitly that the task of holding the government responsible should be a "public and political test". In other words, let the public read and decide. Yet the balance and, some might say, ambiguity of the report do not appear to provide that portion of the public that advocates Olmert's immediate resignation--whether reservist and other advocacy groups or the political opposition led by the Likud on the right and Meretz on the left--with sufficient ammunition. This focuses attention on Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor party and minister of defense, who stated last spring, in the course of his successful campaign to win the leadership of his party, that upon publication of the Winograd final report he would insist that Olmert step aside.

Barak's only reported reaction following Winograd's public appearance was to term the report "light grey"--a fairly accurate assessment. Clearly, he would prefer to remain in the government for the time being, but he also has to maintain his political credibility. One likely approach might be to argue the need to stay and ensure that all the lessons of Lebanon, as detailed by Winograd, are duly internalized by the IDF. He can also point to the peace process with the Palestinians and the severe security problems presented by Hamas in Gaza as justification for remaining in office for at least, say, another six months, after which he would reevaluate the situation and reconsider demanding new elections.

As for possible signs of unrest within Olmert's Kadima party, FM Tzipi Livni--who briefly demanded Olmert's resignation following the interim report--this time closed ranks with him. This was almost certainly a reflection of her assessment that this time around the task of removing Olmert was impossible. Only MK Avigdor Yitzhaki pledged to leave the Knesset unless Olmert resigned within three weeks.

Meanwhile, here and there people were celebrating. Olmert and Amir Peretz (minister of defense during the war), ignoring the reiterated condemnation of the earlier interim report, declared they had been exonerated by the Winograd final report. Olmert, in particular, reportedly felt the report had put paid to the accusations that he had initiated the costly final offensive in order to save his political skin. Hezbollah, too, celebrated: Winograd gave it high marks for the success of a few thousand guerillas in fighting the mighty IDF to a relative stalemate.

One key question remained unanswered by the report: unprepared as it was, why did Israel go to war on July 12, 2006? Indeed, what are the criteria for deciding when to go to war? On this issue, as on many others involving the Olmert government's judgment during the war, the Winograd commission gave Olmert the benefit of the doubt.